Five Plays & Cap Casualties – Peyton Manning

First off, apologies for my lack of content over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been extremely busy. Anyway. I’ve decided to continue the Five Plays series in the current period, with a switch in focus towards potential cap casualties. The players under scrutiny at this point in time for salary related reasons are some of the most crucial players in our recent period of success – namely, Peyton Manning; Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney. I’ve decided to do Peyton first, because he’s more significant to the team and the decision will impact the franchise for several years.

The facts with Peyton are as follows:

  • The Colts owe Peyton a $28m option bonus, due on March 8th. His potential base salary for next year is $7.4m.
  • We in the public domain still have little other than hearsay in terms of knowledge about his current injury status, which confuses the waters.
  • Manning and Jim Irsay have been engaged in a very public battle for the hearts and minds of Colts fans, leading to questions about whether he’d want to return or potentially negotiate a new contract for a more favourable cap scenario.

My plays today will be little more than a reminiscent whistlestop tour of Manning’s greatness. We’re all well aware of his strengths and weaknesses, and so while I’ll point out my observations, don’t expect anything groundbreaking. And on that note, we begin..


Play #1 – Jets @ Colts – Week 20, 2009.

There’s nothing particularly remarkable about the following play, though I’ve decided to go in the head of Peyton Manning for an entire drive for the first three plays.

The Colts line up in the 3WR 1TE 1RB set, with 2 minutes on the clock. The Jets are as usual taking the jazzy approach to defense, with a mixture of DBs and LBs sitting in the centre of the field to try and confuse Manning.

As Peyton takes the snap, his eyes are on Austin Collie and noone else. That isn’t counting his peripheral vision, which is second to none and one of his great attributes in terms of sensing pressure.

He shuffles around in the pocket to ensure a clean release, and given good coverage downfield, he’s waiting to throw a man open.

With a relatively clean pocket, Collie finally springs back past the marker and Peyton releases the ball from the usual high point.

It hits Collie straight in the numbers, and he makes the easy catch for a first down.

Collie gets to the sideline, and the clock stops at 1:59 at a crucial point in the game. So far, so Peyton.

Play #2 – Jets @ Colts – Week 20, 2009.

After a brief break for the 2-minute warning, Peyton and the Colts get back out there to press their advantage – and here’s where the magic starts.

The Colts again line up in the 3-1-1, and in this case Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai are both in close to aid in pass protection. Failing that, Addai will run a little wheel route to provide a quick outlet if nothing is open downfield.

The OL does a very good job in condensing the Jets’ blitzers into a small area. Combined with Peyton’s pocket awareness, it bodes very well for the play.

With a clean pocket, Peyton can release the ball with no fear of pressure. On such a nuanced throw, this is very important.

I’ve circled the ball amongst the clutter, along with the Jets CB and safety. It’s regular man coverage with safety help over the top, though the safety in this case has shaded to Garcon given his deep threat potential. Notice the minuscule separation from Collie against Dwight Lowery.

Lowery jumps to try and make a play on the ball, but the placement is exactly where it has to be. Anywhere else and it’s a likely pick.

It lands right in the bread basket, and Collie is able to continue in-stride down the field.

He’s eventually brought down at the 16 yard line for an absolutely huge gain. 64 yards in two plays, all to Austin Collie. One of the best throws I think i’ve ever seen. And yet, there’s more!

Play #3 – Jets @ Colts – Week 20, 2009.

Immediately following the play, the Colts line up downfield and Peyton diagnoses the defense. He notices Eric Smith (#33, S) lined up across from Austin Collie, and judges it as a mismatch. I’ve capped him audibling at the line to focus on Smith.

From the moment of the snap, he’s focused only on Collie.

With another clean pocket, he’s free to release to Collie on the in-breaking route. The Jets play a shallow form of zone on the back end, which allows Collie to get over the top.

It’s a perfectly placed ball, and Collie is given enough room by the throw to comfortably make the grab in-bounds.

He takes the ball at the highest point and goes safely to ground.

And this drive is probably the most important in the game, and allows the Colts to proceed to the Super Bowl.

The drive as a whole encompasses many of Manning’s strengths – mentally, in audibling the play at the line to facilitate a touchdown, along with his pocket awareness. Physically in the arm strength required to throw down the field, along with the ridiculous accuracy which accompanies his throws.

Play #4 – Giants @ Colts – Week 2, 2010.

However, some elements of his game haven’t been shown, and another great talent is evident in the following play.

The Colts line up in the standard 3-1-1, and the background to the play is a vibrant Colts running game taking advantage of DB-heavy defense courtesy of Perry Fewell. Dallas Clark is lined up in the slot.

The indistinguishable play-fake doesn’t fool the entire Giants defense, but the room it gives Peyton to look downfield is key.

With a clean pocket, he’s able to see Dallas Clark downfield with the bare minimum of separation. The ball is released on time and from a high point.

Again I’ve separated the ball from the clutter, though I feel that on this play it’s difficult for me to truly show the touch and feel on the pass, which is remarkable.

The ball lands exactly where it must do, and it again exhibits Manning’s flawless accuracy at times.

Dallas takes it to the house, and the Colts are in control.

One element of the play which isn’t as immediately clear from that camera angle is the importance of the play-action. The S on the play, Michael Johnson, eats the great fake and opens up his half of the field.

As Peyton fakes, Johnson acts on his read and tries to get down to the LOS to make an impact play.

Even when he can see the rest of his team playing pass, he plays run due to the aforementioned indistinguishable fake. He’s staring at Brown as he emerges around the right side of the offensive line, only for him to realise his mistake.

As Peyton releases the ball, Clark is behind his man – but only just. The ball has to be thrown with finesse and touch, and fortunately it is.

The ball ends up where it has to be, and the Colts take the momentum in the game, going 14-0 up.

Play #5 – Jets @ Colts – Week 18, 2010.

Qualifying assessments of Peyton’s skill in audibling and reading the defense isn’t the easiest job. Fortunately, a play that has stuck with me illustrates it perfectly.

The play is from the 2010 Wildcard game against the Jets, in which a severely depleted Colts offense tried to outmanoeuvre Rex Ryan and his morphing defense. The play in question is a 3rd and 9, and the Colts have called pass, as you’d imagine. As Peyton surveys the defense, he notices CB Kyle Wilson at DE on the play, along with a prowling unit comprised of a DL, LB and S lurking in the center of the field.

He heads to the line and audibles.

In the event, he audibles to a shotgun run to the right of the formation, where only Wilson and a deep safety are realistically going to stop the play. Wilson immediately goes into off coverage with his back to the play, allowing for easy run blocking.

Wilson is still in off-man here, and it’s almost like he’s partly responsible for Pierre Garcon as well. By this time, Addai has the ball and is running hard downhill.

Wilson eventually gets blocked by his opposite number Tamme, and the rest of the play holds up as you’d hope.

He’s eventually brought down for a 14 yard gain on a crucial 3rd and 9.

The gap present is deceptive, in that the roaming units in the middle of the field periodically occupy and exit the area in question. Peyton ignores it, and diagnoses correctly that the gap will remain open.

He completes the audible and makes sure Addai is comfortable, before going back into his stance for the snap.

The Jets eventually settle into their appropriate stances in position, and by this time Manning must know the play is golden.

He hands the ball off to Joseph Addai and probably congratulates himself on a job well done.


Ultimately, I could’ve chosen hundreds of plays to display the brilliance of Peyton Manning. I chose these examples because I wanted to highlight specific skill sets, but one thing that remains painfully clear from the evidence is that Peyton Manning at his height is absolutely unstoppable. The blend of pocket awareness, skill in reading the defense and audibling, fantastic accuracy and above average arm strength results in one of the greatest QBs to ever play the game, and there’s an argument that he may well be the greatest of all time.

I can never openly advocate the release of Peyton Manning from the Colts, I absolutely cannot. Countenancing the idea of him playing elsewhere isn’t something I really want to do. The numbers would justify a potential release alongside the injury concerns, given that the inevitable selection of Andrew Luck would take our QB spending next year up to the unfathomable heights of $51m. If Peyton is however healthy and able to play at 80% of his previous level, I would absolutely consider trading the #1 pick and bringing Peyton back. I’ve watched Andrew Luck all year and I’ll be watching him at the combine – and without ruining an upcoming profile on him – I know his strengths and weaknesses, and yet I’d advocate (if 3 or 4 years at the position from Peyton can be considered a very good chance) retaining Manning. He’s a unique blend of attributes, he knows the team and is the de facto leader of the franchise, and retaining him would send the message that we’re going on a glorious run for the Super Bowl. Having spent his entire career at the Colts, I think he deserves it and we as fans deserve it. Another Super Bowl (or lord knows, even greater treasures) and he’ll be the consensus greatest of all time in the eyes of many. I don’t think our journey with Manning has come to its conclusion, and I hope it doesn’t for the foreseeable future.

That said, the injury worries are hard to surmount, and taking Luck as a guarantee of good play at the position for the foreseeable future isn’t necessarily a bad idea. Peyton’s evident rapport with Austin Collie would undoubtedly be replicated by Andrew Luck, given the easy comparison between Austin Collie and Luck’s favourite receiver last year, Griff Whalen – the only caveat being that Collie is far superior to Whalen.

An option not raised particularly frequent is the option for Manning and Tom Condon to come to an agreement regarding a softer contract for the next couple of years, when the injury concerns are taken into account. I sincerely hope this is an option. Let me know your thoughts.

Go Colts.